Sunday, July 10, 2005

LAUNCHcast Plus

Launch.com has been around for awhile and it hasn't changed all that much in the past few years, though it is still a great option for streaming music and video.

To begin, here's one of the best kept secrets at Yahoo! (who owns Launch.com): If you have SBC Yahoo DSL (which many do here in the Bay Area), you already have access to Launchcast Premium services. This account gives you full access to hundreds of stations and commercial-free content. For some reason, nobody seems to know this little nugget of information. If you have SBC Yahoo! DSL, your username at Launch.com is your entire SBC Yahoo email address (i.e., johndoe@sbcglobal.net) and your password is your normal email password.

If you’re unfamiliar with Launchcast, it is a web-based media player with access to thousands of songs. Here’s the catch: it’s radio. Therefore, you can’t pick and choose what songs you are going to hear. Nevertheless, you can still skip a song if you don’t like it. Also, as you listen to each song, you can rate it. You can also rate the artist and the album. There are ways to give ratings to entire genres as well. As your ratings start to build up, Launchcast starts to suggest artists that you might enjoy. It does a remarkable job suggesting things.


Launchcast Plus Interface Posted by Picasa

I always thought that with a huge local music collection, I’d never have to go back to radio again. But after listening to my huge collection of MP3s all the time, just picking songs has become a chore. I find myself picking the same artists and my listening habits have stagnated over time. Letting Launch pick artists for you not only saves you time, but exposes you to a wealth of new artists and genres.

Launchcast also has a system of “influencers,” which is a fancy term for free-riding on someone else’s ratings. So, if you like someone’s customized station a lot, you can add it to you list and be “influenced” by it. That way you don’t have to sit there rating songs one by one. Don’t feel compelled to make your own station. The pre-listed stations are great. I recommend “Chill Out” and “Cool as Folk.”

Launchcast’s sound quality is acceptable. Usually if you really turn up the volume on streaming media, it begins to distort and sound tinny. But the sound on Launchcast sounds full and balanced, though not exactly CD quality. Depending on your internet connection, you can adjust the quality of sound so that you don’t max our your bandwidth. At its highest quality, Launch will stream roughly 9-12 KB/sec of data, which is a relatively small portion of your connection. Rest assured that you can power through the bowels of ESPN.com while listening to music.

Launchcast is the perfect option for someone who has a decent sound system hooked up to their computer at home. Launchcast is also great for those of you who spend a lot of time in front of a computer at work or are at least near one. The drawbacks are that unlike satellite radio, you can’t bring this into your car or attach the service to any portable device.

There are a few problems with Launchcast. For some reason, after awhile the artist/song/album information does not refresh properly on the player. This has been a persistent problem over the past few years and I doubt Yahoo! intends to fix it. I have tried a number of different browsers but all seem to have this problem. Every once in awhile the player will look like it is frozen. The buttons won’t respond, but will respond a few minutes later. It’s a shame because these simply software bugs mar an otherwise great streaming media service.

One thing I would love to see is something like Rhapsody’s music service, whereby a user can pick songs to listen to and create playlists. That is the big drawback with Launchcast. You don’t know how many times I’ve heard an amazing song and wanted to replay it, only to have it not play again for a few weeks. Apart from the premium services, Launch has a number of free stations that are also great.

For more information, visit http://music.yahoo.com/.

1 comment:

Michael said...

Nice to hear that you like Chill Out. I currently program that station for Yahoo! Music. If you ave any comments or questions about Chill Out, LAUNCHcast, or Yahoo! Music, contact me via http://blog.360.yahoo.com/emayoh.